try this at home: make yogurt

My friend Kristen tweeted about yogurt the other day, which got me chatting, again, about making my own. Making yogurt is my most beloved soap box kitchen topic of all time, next to my general obsession with supporting local farmers. She said she wanted to make her own, so I decided to revisit the topic again here (I grabbed a post from last year and spit-shined it for y’all).

A quick aside: Are you listening to the Happier podcast? It’s by Gretchen Rubin and guest-stars her sister, and it’s a fun way to get an inspirational boost to establishing better habits. They open with a “Try this at home” segment that I love, so my post title is a nod to their show because this post felt very advice-y along those lines.

Back to yogurt. The first time I made yogurt, it was after reaching a tipping point of friends cheering me on and reading the Urban Farm Handbook, which I recommend checking out if you like to tinker with local food. A year into my experimentation, my favorite food radio show the Splendid Table covered yogurt-making, and since then I’ve perfected my technique.

Warning: you will lose some milk in this learning process, but if you look at it as just that—a process—you will likely lose less sleep about how the finished product turns out. The longer I make it, the closer I get to 100% success. Virtually the only thing that ever goes wrong now is that I forget I’ve made a batch and leave it in the cooler too long, but you’re probably less of a space cadet than me, so you’re good. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!

p.s. Don’t forget to stick a piece of key lime pie on it every now and then.

 

homemade yogurt
makes 2 quarts
Ingredients:
  1. 2 QT (1/2 gallon) whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized; see notes below directions)
  2. 1/4 c. (4 Tbs.) plain yogurt with active cultures, at room temp. (NOT containing pectin; see notes)
Tools:
  1. large heavy-bottomed pot
  2. thermometer
  3. two clean quart Ball jars or three clean spaghetti jars (sterilization isn’t necessarily, washed in the dishwasher is fine)
  4. whisk
  5. 2 c. liquid measuring cup
  6. igloo cooler
  7. bath towel or blanket
  8. a few rags or dishtowels
  9. oven mitt
Directions:
  1. Remove the starter yogurt from the fridge and let it come to room temperature during the next steps.
  2. Starting with clean jars, place them on top of a rag in your pot. The rag keeps the jars from jangling around enough to annoy you and/or crack. Fill the jars with milk, leaving 1-inch headspace at the top (the yogurt you add later will take up room). Fill the pot three-quarters full with water.
  3. Put the pot on the stove. Add the thermometer to the milk. Heat over medium-low, stirring milk once or twice, until the milk is at least 180ºF, preferably 185ºF. This will take a good hour or so. It is important not to heat the milk too fast, both for the risk of scalding and because fast heating leads to grainy, odd-textured yogurt. You aren’t heating the milk to kill any bad bacteria; the heating process just gives you a thicker yogurt. In fact, the longer you leave it at 185º, the thicker the end product will be, but even if you take it off the heat right away, it should be plenty thick.
  4. When the milk is 185ºF, you can either remove the jars from the pot to a dry dishtowel on the counter, or just turn the heat off and let them cool in the water (option #2 takes longer, but I do it when I’m home all day because it produces the best texture to cool slowly). Cool the milk to 115ºF. (Note: If you use jars, putting them in an ice bath could cause a crack.)
  5. When the milk is 115ºF, pour 1 c. milk into measuring cup and add 2 Tbs. tablespoons of yogurt (for a spaghetti jar, one Tbs. will do the trick). Whisk to combine, then pour milk back into jar and whisk again. Repeat with second jar.
  6. Screw on lids and place the jars in a blanket or towel-lined cooler. Tuck the jars under the towel like a baby taking a snug nap, and leave the jars in the cooler for at least 6 hours; I leave mine for 7-10 hours, depending on what time I notice the cooler sitting there. The longer you leave it, the tangier it will be. Transfer the jars from the cooler to the fridge to cool completely; it will thicken a bit more as it cools.

Notes:

  • Starter yogurt: I have never bought any “yogurt cultures” that are sold specifically for making yogurt at home. I began my batches with commercial plain yogurt (up here we have a delicious brand called Maple Hill Creamery, but Fage works well too). Look for a brand with just milk and active cultures, i.e., no artificial thickeners like pectin. Read the labels. Now I just make sure to save a 1/4 cup of my last yogurt before starting anew. You can also freeze a bit of yogurt as a back-up in case you forget to save it; the freezing process does not kill the active cultures.
  • Milk: Ultra-pasteurization is a process that heats the milk to an extremely high temperature very quickly, which results in a more shelf-stable product. The problem is that the heating process also changes the whey proteins so that yogurt will not set up properly. Simple pasteurization is what you’re looking for. We use whole milk from a local farm; because it doesn’t travel far, it is even cheaper than national brands of organic milk.
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